Tuesday, October 28, 2008

where the books are

I was thinking about Willie Sutton and his famous response to the question of why he robbed banks, "because that's where the money is" as I have been reading the extremely well researched and incredibly well written (albeit terribly depressing) A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern Iraq. The cautionary tale of a 27 year old Jordanian poet facing prison for something he wrote is important to work around in your head as you consider how many generations have, in fact, done a whole lot worse things than imprison authors and purge their books. In addition to book burnings, people themselves were put to the flame. It's one thing to want to kill an idea - it's quite another to rub out a people. An identity. A history.

There are no books that have survived the destruction of Carthage, nor Troy. The winners routinely destroy the written documents of the losers. The Nazis attempted to do it while in the midst of a war as did the Serbs, as did the Vandals.....the history of our human race is one of periodic self inflicted darkness as we snuff out the light of knowledge for the comfort of ignorance. But, really, is ignorance really comfortable? No, yet we humans have done it all the same. There are in this great country of ours, the United States of America, people who fervently believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth as recently as 4,000 years ago. How is that possible? Self-blinding to avoid self-doubt. And that is the great fear of a person like myself, that ignorant people will attempt to thrust us into a new dark age for their own delusional reasons. The followers of bin Laden and the followers of Sarah Palin. Extremism in the defense of one's fantasy is still WRONG.

It doesn't surprise me that there are occasion book burnings in the United States. How many books are challenged each year by citizens who want to control what others read in local libraries or at local schools? In a country that publishes thousands of books every year, how can we delude ourselves that we can - or even should control what our neighbor reads? If one wants to control what THEY read, that's find. There are ostriches among us, and that's fine. But when these ostriches try to prevent ME from reading something, they have crossed a line....and I will push back.

There are certain world-views that are unacceptable to me. One is being flaunted right now by the Vice Presidential candidate from the state of Alaska; a rather simplistic view. A wrongheaded view. A dangerously wrongheaded view in many respects since she could be an elbow away from nuclear codes and doomsday scenarios. Thinking people need to speak out against this simple minded 'black-and-white' view for the love of our country and for the well-being of our planet.

Books often contain something called "concepts" and concepts matter. Thought matters. That's how we became the race we have become. There are jihadists in this country as well, people determined to "fulfill God's plan" even if that means destroying the entire planet by their own hand to achieve this 'cause'. And time and again humans have shown themselves to be of weak minds often enough to burn down vast stores of books and knowledge. It needs to be remembered that Christians killed Hypatia, the last librarian of the priceless Alexandria library, and it was Christians who torched the library itself. Within a hundred years of the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, it was Christians who burned other Christians at the stake in Europe as well as copies of offensive books. It wasn't THAT long ago, despite how "enlightened" we imagine ourselves today.

Which meanders back to the the whole "where the books are" statement at the beginning of the this posting......libraries are targeted by combatants during wartime. Bookstores are also targets of violence. Booksellers are killed for what appears in their shops. In these curious times, we need to protect the right to read everything. To light one's mind against the forces of darkness and repression.

No comments: